First, can we just stipulate that CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to decree the end of the work-at-home option for Yahoo employees as of June was a tad abrupt? Insensitive? Raw meat to a sharklike blogosphere? All of the above?
We also must concede that this news was of such importance to the employees Mayer leads that she probably should have handled delivery of the lifestyle-altering message personally, which may serve as a learning moment for a young CEO.
With that said, however, we hasten to say that there's something refreshing about identifying real value in personal connections and even chance interactions that occur without the filter of an electronic device or a virtual environment. Not just social value, but dollar value to a company.
Back in the 1990s, some Silicon Valley pundits thought by now offices would be obsolete and traffic jams would be history as tech workers toiled from home, communicating with colleagues efficiently online. Telecommuting is certainly more common these days, especially for moms and dads. Some tech companies encourage it. But how fascinating that the industry stars today -- Google, Facebook, Apple -- do the opposite.
Those firms created huge campuses for employees to work together, and they lavish free meals and massages on those employees to keep them at the office. So it is little wonder really that struggling Yahoo now sees this as a competitive advantage it must match.
Admittedly, the sudden sea change delivered by a human resources memo might not have been the best strategy for implementation, but Yahoo employees must face at least a couple of disquieting realities: First, their company is struggling mightily and, second, Yahoo's tradition of working at home hasn't gotten the job done. Or, put another way, TV shrink Dr. Phil might simply ask, "how's that been working for ya?"
Any ordinary business that chooses to ignore those conditions does so at its own peril. But in the Silicon Valley, where dramatic change is as abundant as oxygen, refusing to jettison unproductive policies -- no matter how popular -- is tantamount to corporate suicide.
Yahoo's shift of policy is no surprise to product managers in valley companies that have sent development work offshore. Those managers know chance meetings in the hall used to nip problems in the bud or raise useful ideas or spawn productive debate. Now, with most communication in their operations handled by pre-scheduled phone calls or video conferences across multiple time zones, the serendipity is gone. Not to mention the good night's sleep.
As a society, we revel in our 24/7 digital connections. We email, tweet, post our every move on Facebook, carefully create our circles on Google Plus. But friending someone isn't the same as being a real friend. That takes a human touch. So does creativity, which is greatly enhanced when it hangs out at the salad bar with its siblings collaboration and community. Together they can accomplish great things.
Mayer wants that to become a Yahoo corporate value. We hope she makes it happen.